Suppose you make a new acquaintance at a social gathering. What is the one thing you would like that person to understand about you? Is there some essential bit of information that defines you as a person?
Maybe it is your chosen profession, or a particular hobby you enjoy. Maybe you feel you are defined by your belief on some topic, or your political leanings. Some people seem to think their musical tastes, or the movies they enjoy, is important to understanding who they are.
Related: Listen to an episode of the Intellectual Roundtable Podcast, where Lee and Michael discuss this question: ‘What makes you you?’ We also discuss another question as well, ‘What gives a person value?’
Similarly, even people who have known you for a long time may not know the real you. Do you ever feel as if there is a facet of your personality hidden from your friends and family? That there is something you know about yourself that others don’t seem to understand?
If you could control how others saw you, what would you choose to emphasize? What do you wish people knew about you?
Related questions: Why do we care what strangers think of us? How does creative expression help us to know ourselves better? How do you think others see you?
I think most people tend to define themselves by listing things that they like. But can you be defined in the opposite way, by listing things that you don’t like?
It is conventional wisdom in politics that you cannot win an election by being against things. You need to tell voters what you are for in order to secure their vote.
Is the same thing true in life? Does it make a difference if you define yourself positively (what you like) rather than negatively (what you don’t)? Does life behave like photography, where everything is captured in a photographic negative, but then that develops into a full picture?
Might there be a psychological toll associated with being consistently opposed to ideas, concepts, and even material things? Can you be defined by what you don’t like?
Related questions: Why do we like what we like? What music do you dislike that everyone else likes? When should you not follow the law?
The word “spirituality” means different things to different people.
For some, the word may conjure up visions of a religious ceremony, attended by a cleric, with or without a choir and a sacred text.
Others might think of healing crystals and psychic readings.
Some people think spirituality simply means a walk in the woods, listening to the gentle sounds of nature.
Each person must decide the right way for him or her to commune with something greater than themselves.
Do you have a preferred way? Perhaps meditation? Praying? Ouija board? Tarot deck? Magic eight ball?
What does spirituality mean to you? Are there certain rituals you follow? And how did you come to your views on this very personal belief?
Related questions: Do you believe in the supernatural? Are science and religion compatible? What gives you purpose?
When you hear the word ‘border’ what do you think of? Is there a particular idea that comes to mind?
In some cases, a border is a sharp delineation between two things. For example, the drawings in a coloring book use borders to tell the green part from the blue part.
However, the idea quickly grows more unclear. Let’s use a border between two properties. That boundary is an imaginary line that serves as a legal distinction between, say, me and my neighbor. On this side of this imaginary line is my property; that side of the line belongs to my neighbor.
But that line is not real. A tree growing on one side may have limbs and/or roots that pass through this imaginary edge to the other side. Birds fly right through this line, and snow piles up the same on either side. Borders between countries, or even continents, are similarly porous.
For another example, how about a border between a forest and a prairie. That’s pretty straightforward: where the trees end and the grass begins is the boundary.
But seeds from the grass can blow underneath trees and grow there. And an acorn from a tree on this boundary can fall into the prairie. The border is not so fixed.
Or in a more abstract sense, what about two areas of study? What is the border then? This one thing is physics; that one thing is astronomy. But in that middle ground is astrophysics.
If you look more closely at the edges, any two areas can blend with each other. So does the boundary really exist? What does the word ‘border’ mean to you?
Related questions: Where does authority come from? When did you last push the boundaries of your comfort zone? What do you measure? What is your bubble?
Memory is a key component of our personality. What you have learned from your experiences — good and bad — makes you the person you are.
Sometimes we take memory for granted. Most people are able to learn large amounts of information when they are young. As a baby, we learn to understand and then speak a language. School allows us to learn all about the world around us.
But as we age, sometimes our memories start to fail. We might struggle to come up with a word. Or forget where we put the car keys.
This memory loss progresses even more in some cases, like with dementia or Alzheimer’s. Family members, forced to watch a loved one lose all of their memories, often describe it as losing the individual.
But is it true that it is solely our memories that make us who we are? If someone suffers an injury and loses some memories, do they truly cease to be the person they were before?
If it is true that our memories define us, what are the consequences of that? For example, if someone is able to plant some false memories in someone else, does that constitute a crime?
Studies show that what you remember — or think you remember — can be influenced by others. For example, people who witnessed a crime might be uncertain about some of the details, like what the assailant was wearing. But if even one person reports seeing a red shirt, then eventually everyone might become convinced they saw a red shirt. Does that mean our personalities are not as fixed as we might like to believe?
Does our memory define us?
Related questions: What makes something memorable? How much of our thoughts are our own? What is necessary to change your mind? What makes you you?